Assad's stressed military better after Iran-Russia boost
WASHINGTON — President Bashar Assad has overseen a stronger military but still under strain from the nearly three-year Sunni revolt in Syria.
Officials said the U.S. intelligence community determined that Assad, with massive help from Iran and Russia, maintained his mostly Sunni military in 2013.
Syrian regime soldiers make a sweep through Naqaren after claiming to have regained control of the town near Aleppo on Jan. 14. Reuters/George Ourfalian
The Syrian military, estimated at 670,000 soldiers, has become more effective against Sunni rebel militias, led by elements from Al Qaida.
"Assad's inner circle and the Syrian military remain cohesive, but the military is stretched thin by constant operations," Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn said.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 11, Flynn said Assad's strategy has been to encircle rebel-held villages and city suburbs and bombard them with artillery and air strikes. Eventually, ground forces entered the strongholds and cleared them of the rebels.
"Although these tactics are not new, the regime has demonstrated an increased proficiency and professionalism in their execution compared to the past and has relied more on irregular troops such as militias and Hizbullah fighters," Flynn said.
Flynn cited Iranian and Russian military assistance to the Assad regime. The DIA chief said Teheran was supplying a range of services, including training, advising and intelligence, bolstered by its proxy, Hizbullah.
"Hizbullah continues to provide training, advice, and extensive logistic support to the Syrian government and its supporters," Flynn said. "Hizbullah has directly trained Syrian government personnel inside Syria and has facilitated IRGC-QF training of some Syrian forces."
At the same time, Russia has helped sustain Syrian military operations. The intelligence community said Moscow was providing major maintenance as well as refitting Syrian helicopters and other platforms.
Still, the intelligence community did not envision an Assad victory over the rebels during the next six months. The United States saw the opposition as remaining dominant in the north and east while the Assad regime regained central and western Syria.
"Three years into the conflict, Syria remains divided and neither the regime nor the opposition has a decisive advantage on the battlefield," Flynn said. "The Syrian regime maintains the military advantage, particularly in firepower and air superiority, but struggles with an overall inability to decisively defeat the opposition."